Old Movie Theaters


Sr Member
Old movie theaters... at least theaters from my childhood if that counts as old :lol

So I was looking at that Jedi thread and it reminded me of the theater I saw it at in Des Moines, Iowa. The River Hills / Riviera theater had 1300 seats and two screens one big and one big curved seventy foot screen. That's the screen that I saw all three Star Wars movies, Raiders, Body Snatchers, Top Gun and probably most other major films that I saw from the mid 70's through the early eighties.

I was just doing some reading on it and found these stats:

River Hills opened with a reserved-seat run of “Mediterranean Holiday” on April 19, 1968. (“2001” followed the booking of “Mediterranean Holiday on June 26, 1968.)
The RIVIERA half of the complex opened a week before the RIVER HILLS half on April 12, 1968, with the debut attraction being “Where Angels Go…Trouble Follows.”

River Hills is famous for being the host venue for the Des Moines area exclusive booking of the original “Star Wars.” The movie ran for 29 weeks in the River Hills auditorium (May 27-Dec. 13, 1977), and then when replaced by “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind” it moved to the Riviera auditorium, where it ran for another 27 weeks. The combined 56-week run is, I believe, second only to the 113-week roadshow run of “The Sound Of Music” (at the Capri) as the longest-running movie in Des Moines exhibition history.

Newspaper ad from the Des Moines Register, May 27,1977
“Begins Tonight! Star Wars. Star Wars will be presented with DOLBY SOUND a special new sound system that the River Hills has installed that will astound your mind with the ULTIMATE QUAD SYSTEM.
Adults $3.00, Children under 12 $1.25”
Playing at the Riviera Twin- The Godfather and The Godfather Part II.

I haven't lived in Iowa for over 20 years and I knew the theater had been closed about 10 years ago in favor of malls and shoe box sized multiplexes but I hadn't really looked up anything on line about it before. I attached a couple of sad pics of it being demolished. Seats removed and a pic of the big curved screen where I saw all those films.
I know you can never go back but man I wish I could see some films there again.

So where was your big movie going experience back in the day?

Last edited:
The Latchis Theater in Brattleboro VT was the nicest of the three theaters in my town. Now it's been subdivided into a few smaller theaters, but up until the mid 80s it was one big room with Greek murals/statues and a deep blue ceiling with the zodiac in gold spread across it. Totally felt like you were in some Italian Renaissance theater waiting to see a new play.

It still retains some of its former glory, but it is skimpier than it had been. You can't tell because the division happened at the back of the room (which cut off part of the awesome ceiling decor):

Latchis Hotel & Theater


Last edited:
i believe its a theater, but in the music video for dancing in the sheets by shalamar, they filmed backgrounds at some old looking abandoned what looks like a theater. anyone know if its still around or what it was?
I can't believe this thread isn't getting more traffic! I LOVE the big old downtown movie theaters! So what the heck, I'll share two more, shut down for several years now, sadly...

In Pullman, WA from 98-00 I worked at the Audian, a full on 500 seat art-deco downtown theater. The owner had a skeevier sister theater the Cordova that now and then I filled in at which was creepy, and the projection booth was so small I could barely assemble the reels on the platter, but it had some really beautiful touches, such as light fixtures with shades of thinly sliced stone. Just lovely. I managed/ran the projector at the Audian, including during the magic summer of The Phantom Menace, and those memories are some of the best of my life.

Not grand on the outside, but a step into the forties inside:
thanks for sharing Caymen Shen. I hope this thread picks up as well. My post about River Hills was actually an email I sent to a friend reminiscing and thought it would make a good topic here.
I added a pic of the Cinerama splash screen slide from River Hills.

There was the dollar theater and drive in that used to exist in Madison until the end of the 1980s.

There was Ashley Cinema and Movies at the Mall (the movie theater attach to the Valdosta Mall, then renamed to Colonial Mall Valdosta). That was until Ashley became a $1 theater and a Regal movie theater opened across the way from the mall in 2003. The part of the building where the Movies at the Mall used the reside was torn down and now resides a parking lot extension.
Think international! In my case, well, you might probably know it, German.

I researched movie theaters for a movie about Romy Schneider three years ago, and came across a lot of gems ( and a lot of really sad stories), this one´s a fave, since it´s actually right around my neck of the woods :


If you´re wondering why there´s a vintage (or is that antique?) VW Beetle in the foyer, the foyer is actually the garage, the car has to be moved out before shows, since the ticket counter is in the garage as well.

Then there´s this jewel:

Lichtburg Essen - Deutschlands grter Filmpalast

And that´s for now, otherwise I´ll become sad again because of all the temples of movie culture that have been either torn down or remodeled into starbucks (no cliché here, actually happened to this one : Der Umbau - Lichtburg Düsseldorf ). Agh, already starting...
I worked at the aforementioned River Hills/Riviera theaters in Des Moines, IA while in high school in late 70's early 80's. I was an usher and evenually asst mgr. It was a grand place to watch such movies as the Star Wars trilogy, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman, etc... The River Hills boasted a giant 70 ft curved screen with dolby surround sound and seated 640. The Riviera had the capability of running 70mm film and seated 710. I have fond memories of lines of people wrapped around the block waiting to see some of the biggest films of the time. I even met Charleton Heston there when he showed up for the premier of "The Mountain Men" with Brian Keith! I was sad when they tore it down. It was replaced by Wells Fargo arena that hosts concerts and sporting events.
Hey Andy, Thanks for replying. We probably crossed paths in the lobby way back when. Maybe you tore my ticket on the way into Empire Strikes Back!
River Hills / Riviera is what I remember as the best theaters :thumbsup but I frequented the Southridge and Fleur 4 theaters quite a bit, just to throw out another couple of names you might remember.

Of the four local movie theaters I frequented growing up, only one remains and it has been turned into a mini multiplex (10 screens) with only faint remnants of it's former glory. :unsure

These are the two theaters I grew up around. My grandparents went on dates at the drive in.
The last movie I remember seeing at a drive-in was Smokey and the Bandit and the second feature was "The Car"... I remember we left after about 15 minutes of The Car. :lol

Just got a reply for an additional post to this thread, unfortunately he posted it to the hacked site. I'll paste it here and try to email him...

Mon, Feb 13, 2012 6:40 pm

ECBBFan has just replied to a thread you have subscribed to entitled - Old Movie
Theaters - in the Entertainment and Movie Forum forum of the RPF.

Here is the message that has just been posted:
Blaster -
Des Moines had some great theatres. I was born there and lived in the area until
I graduated high school and moved to the Southwest but I went back and saw
movies there on a fairly regular basis through the rest of the 80s and parts of
the 90s, so I’m kind of familiar with the Des Moines area movie theatres –


I remember going to movies at the Forum IV theatre as early as the summer of
1975 (“Jaws”).

The Valley III in West Des Moines opened the same time as the Mall it was
contained in - 1975 or shortly after. It’s kind of sad, but with the opening of
the Jordan Creek Mall, the Valley West Mall that I spent a lot of time in – and
saw some great movies at – now seems to be the “old” mall, and despite efforts
to spruce it up, is not the same. The Valley III is gone – replaced by a bar &

The Plantation Drive-In was open until around Labor Day 1986 or maybe 1987 (I
was away at college when it closed). You can see photos of it here: CinemaTour
- Cinemas Around the World - Plantation Drive-In Theatre, Des Moines IA
(CinemaTour - Cinemas Around the World - Plantation Drive-In Theatre, Des Moines IA) - It later became “The Sands”
Volleyball Club.

I agree that the jewel in the crown of Des Moines area theatres had to the the
River Hills/Riviera with the enormous, curved “Cinerama” screen on the River
Hills side (the Riviera side was fantastic too). I remember seeing a re-release
of "The Greatest Show On Earth" there in the early to mid-70s (anybody know
exactly?) and “2001: A Space Odyssey” there in about 1975 (anybody know
exactly?) and of course “Star Wars” there many times in 1977-1978. Also
“Superman” when it opened in December 1978, “Superman III” in 1983 and “Return
Of The Jedi” in 1983. I think the last movie I saw there was “The World Is Not
Enough” in November 1999.

The West-Vue Drive-In was only a couple of blocks from my house in Urbandale. My
family could see the screen from our front yard. Somewhere I must have a picture
of it. It closed in 1977, stood empty for about a year, then was torn down to
make way for a “business park” cluster of single story multi-business buildings
(which are still there today).

Thankfully there are still some cool theatres left there, like the Varsity and
the Plaza, and some of the newer theatres aren’t bad.

Last edited by a moderator:
Richmond is blessed to have the 2 coolest theaters around. The Ethyl IMAX Dome (also called OMNIMAX) is part of the Science Museum of Virginia located inside a former rail road station. To me unless IMAX is in a dome, it's a joke. I felt ripped off the first time I saw an IMAX movie somewhere else. The screen literally wraps around you. It's like watching a movie in a bubble. They mostly show educational films but I've seen some great features there including Star Wars Episode II, Superman Returns, Beauty and the Beast, and the Polar Express.


The other greatest place is the Byrd Theatre. It's like stepping back in time to a movie palace of the 30s. On Saturday the evening shows start with the organist playing the huge Wurlitzer Organ which rises out of the stage while he plays. Best part is it's only $2. Though I think the seats my be original. :eek

Byrd Theatre & Foundation - Home

80 Years of History and Entertainment

The year 2008 marks the 80th birthday of the Byrd Theatre, which was built in 1928 in Richmond, Virginia as one of the Nation’s Grand Movie Palaces and today is both a State and National Historic landmark. The 1300-seat Byrd Theatre, named after William Byrd, one of the founders of Richmond, is one of the nation’s finest cinema treasures.

The first movie shown at the Byrd on Christmas Eve, 1928, was Waterfront, a silent movie with sound added. This was a comedy with Dorothy MacKaill and Jack Mulhall. Patrons paid 25 cents for a matinee and 50 cents for an evening movie. Today patrons pay $1.99 for a movie.

An Architectural Treasure

The Byrd Theatre is an architectural treasure chest adorned with paintings, marbled walls, gold leaf arches, a richly appointed mezzanine, and some of the original patterned mohair-covered seats. An 18-foot, two-and-a-half ton Czechoslovakian crystal chandelier suspended over the auditorium contains over 5,000 crystals illuminated by 500 red, blue, green and amber lights.

The cinema visionaries who built and designed the Byrd outfitted it with two sound systems. One of these was Vitaphone, a relatively new sound synchronization system commercially developed by Warner Brothers. “The Jazz Singer,” generally acknowledged as the first talking film, was recorded using this system. At that time, though, it was uncertain whether “talkies” would continue to be popular and a significant number of the films distributed were still silent so the Byrd also had a Wurlitzer Theatre organ. In 1953, the original 35mm Simplex standards were replaced by the current Simplex 35mm projectors, which are still used daily.

In 2004, Ray Dolby, who created the Dolby sound system, toured the Byrd and was so impressed with the theatre that he donated a Dolby Digital sound system, which was installed in 2006. Just as in 1928, the Byrd has state-of-the-art sound technology.

Mighty Wurlitzer - a landmark within a landmark

The Mighty Wurlitzer Organ is perhaps the Byrd’s most recognizable trademark. The Rudolf Wurlitzer Company, which custom made organs for the leading theatres of the country, installed the organ when the theatre was built. The “Mighty Wurlitzer” theatre organ was designed as a “one man orchestra” to accompany silent movies.

The Wurlitzer organ occupies four rooms on the fourth floor over the stage, plus the two alcoves in the house, a vacuum blower for the piano in the basement, an elevator room in the basement, and the console pit in the center of the orchestra pit. The two rooms above the stage contain the organ pipe work, drums, bells, horns and many other effects – all sounds are created by instruments and are not synthesized. Under the piano in the left alcove is a master xylophone about six feet long. Under the harp in the right alcove is a marimba or wood harp that is played from the console. Currently, about half of the organ parts work but as funds become available, the Foundation plans to restore this valuable piece of musical Americana to its original condition.

For me Toronto was full of amazing venues when I was a kid. The Eglinton (a great old theater from the 30s which had been part of the Pantages chain I believe - great long auditorium), the University on Bloor West (where my parents pulled me out of school to see the premier 8am show of ESB!), the Uptown (another old Vaudville venue where you could still see the clumsy subdivision the auditorium had undergone, complete with the old boxes). All gone now, replaced by craptacular cookie-cutter megalplexes with zero personality.

Drive ins....can't remember the names of the ones north of TO we used to go to regularly, but oh man, as a kid in the late '70s and early, early '80s, nothing beat the drive in. Playing at the playground until dusk fell, then falling asleep by the time the second feature (!!!!!!!) had finished...NOTHING beat that as a movie-going experience. NOTHING.
One of the best resources for finding old movie theaters is Cinema Treasures

I worked at the John Danz in Bellevue, Wa. Saw Superman 2, Trek 2, ST:TMP, Indy 2. It was converted into a Good Guys, and when that went kaput, a furniture store (which is also kaput now, I think). Still have my badge.

One of my favorite theaters is San Francisco's Castro Theatre.


They also have a working Wurlitzer organ, this was before Raiders of the Lost Ark a few months ago:
Some astounding theaters here. For me, the Ziegfeld in NYC is where I want to go when I die. No organ and not as ornate as some of those pictured (that place in Richmond is unbelievable), but class all the way. I've seen everything from all 6 Star Wars films, Raiders, Lawrence of Arabia, Apocalypse Now on up to The Muppets Take Manhattan to Hugo there and never have had a bad experience.
Last edited:
Man, I LOVE movie theaters. Unfortunately all the good ones I know from when I was a kid are gone.

In my home town of Nashville, Tennessee the Belle Meade theater was the Belle of the ball: 70mm curved screen, balcony, winding staircase, gaudy carpet and the smell of popcorn :) I saw Mary Poppins, Pinocchio, Herbie the Love Bug, One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing, Lady and the Tramp, Midway, a bunch of other movies, and Star Wars about 15 times. Superman was probably the last thing I saw there before we moved to Colorado. The Facade is still standing but the insides are gutted and waiting to be developed into something. I make a pilgrimage to the site every time I go back.

Here in Colorado Springs there is one vintage theater left, The Peak, but I can't stand it. If there had to be one old theater to survive in this town why did it have to be the worst one? The Cinema 70 was my favorite and it's now a Harley dealership. The last thing I saw there before it closed down was the restored release of Spartacus. Funny thing is there used to be a Drive-In theater, The Arcadia, in the next lot over (It's now a WalMart of course). The Ute 70 was another good one with a flat 70 mm screen. We spent every Wednesday there during the summers of 1980-83.

In Denver the Cooper was my favorite theater. I saw Empire Strikes Back there in 1980. The last thing I saw there before they tore it down was a reissue of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Great memories. I envy you guys in cities where the great theaters still stand.
This thread is more than 12 years old.

Your message may be considered spam for the following reasons:

  1. This thread hasn't been active in some time. A new post in this thread might not contribute constructively to this discussion after so long.
If you wish to reply despite these issues, check the box below before replying.
Be aware that malicious compliance may result in more severe penalties.